Ancient Jewish agricultural rules
reveal ecological, biological principles

The past Alon dreams of – when Israelis intentionally cherished God’s land -- can be tapped into through ancient agricultural mitzvot, religious laws. These are the remnants of one of the first extensive sustainable farming systems in history, based on spiritual elements as much as the physical. The laws are all recorded in the Bible, applied long before the appearance of chemical farming.

Alon tells me of some main examples he is practicing.

Kilayim is a rule against the mixing of different seeds in one bed. A space of about a foot is designated as a divider between each category of produce, which prevents certain combinations of plant species. So, for example, while different tomato varieties may be planted together, peppers must be sown a foot apart, in any direction, from the tomatoes. The laws are actually quite specific and complicated (although, for the most part, they do not relate to herbs).

These rules are meant more as an approach to relationships than biodiversity. Each life form in this world contains its own creative life force directly from the divine. The complicated laws are a conscious effort to avoid blurring these distinct life forms together, both aboveground and underground. This respect for space between each plant is meant to be transferred over into the human realm.

Orlah is a restriction on harvesting fruit from a newly planted tree or vine until the fourth year of growth. During the first three years, the farmer is expected to invest time and energy into the well-being of the tree or vine, without directly benefiting in return. The fruits are taken off the branches at a young stage and allowed to rot on the ground. At the fourth year, the first fruits are harvested and sanctified. In the past, they would be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem.

This law is meant to keep an initial distance between human and natural cycles, to separate one's self from the aspect of instant gratification and dominance. The number four in Judaism implies completion and unity. Besides for the four elements, life forms (mineral, plant, animal, human), and directions, it is also the number of letters in the name of the Biblical God. At the fourth year, the preparation complete, the farmer is allowed to approach the tree in a healthy give-and-take relationship.

Every seventh year is Shemita, a one-year ban on cultivating the soil, a time for the land to rest and restore herself. Cover crops are planted before the start of the year and left to grow, die then rot in place. Whatever grows naturally from the remnant of last year's annual seeds must not be harvested but allowed to mature then decompose on the ground. All perennial growth on private land transfers automatically to the communal, open and free to the needs and desires of the public.

Essentially this is a faith-based concept. The farmer removes his or her hands from the field to remind one's self of the constant nourishment that is flowing from the ultimate source. As an active partner in creation, the farmer must have a certain awareness and sensitivity to the will of the divine within nature, something that is completely independent of human intervention. The time is taken to reflect on the last six years of work; to meditate on the role of steward as opposed to owner.

As far as the religious garments go, a Kipa is a head covering which is worn in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. This is meant to remind one of the divinity beyond the ego.

The Tzizit are fringes flowing from any four-cornered garment. The four corners correspond to the four elements, directions, as well as the letters in the name of the Biblical God (YHWH), basically a symbol for the unity of all things. The purpose of wearing this garment is to remind one of all the commandments that bring your being into such a unity.